Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Can we all be as rich as America please?

  1. May 5, 2003 #1
    Simple question: can everyone on earth enjoy an affluent western lifestyle or does the affluence of the few depend on the poverty of the many?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2003 #2
    Hmmm...this speaks to my idea of why capitalism worked in America. It had teh advantages of the industrial revolution combined with more resourses than any other western nation. Now that tose resourses are running low, and we have so many more people, raping the rest of the world is the easiest option.
  4. May 5, 2003 #3
    My father in law farms coffee in Kenya. I talked to the coffee pickers there. If they spend all day, 8 hours, picking coffee, they get about 50 cents to $1 (and even if you're a superwhizz picker, you will not make more than $3 a day), which doesn't buy very much in Kenya.

    Go to Starbucks in America and order a medium cup of regular coffee and you'll pay about $1.50.

    So from someone working all day picking lots of beans, you get to the stage of a medium cup of coffee costing more than the picker get's for his day's labor.

    In between, a lot of people are making a lot of money (and a few people are making millions). The farmer is not one of them.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2003
  5. May 5, 2003 #4
    And, let's not forget, Americans insist on a living wage, which is why American companies set up in dictatorships and hire people at literal slave wages.
  6. May 5, 2003 #5
    N_Quire -- yes, though it will take time in many countries. South Korea is the sterling example usually cited. Zero natural resources, crappy economy at the beginning of this century, very affluent now.
    Uh, I don't know about that... literally, slaves don't get paid anything, right? :wink: The question that immediately comes to mind is why would these people choose to work for the American companies, if they had better jobs before?
  7. May 5, 2003 #6


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Yes. Everyone can enjoy western style prosperity.
  8. May 5, 2003 #7
    Because the companies are in cahoots with the dictators, that's why.
  9. May 6, 2003 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    yes, capitalism does work, however, competition in america has gotten more fierce and this has sorted out those who work hard/have a better opportunity (ie: money for college, etc) vs. those dwelling in american poverty (yes, we do have poverty in america)...

    what people all over the world need to remember about america, is that ultimately as an american citizen, you have the greatest power, and that power is to choose...

    if you do not have a wealthy supportive family, (in which case a lot of us don't), it is up to you to earn your success...i can say this because my grandfather and great grandmother both migrated from oppressed eastern european countries and made a great life for themselves and the families they started here...
  10. May 6, 2003 #9
    The myth that hard work ALWAYS leads to success is pretty popular, I see. It is the same myth that has millions of kids shooting hoops in their backyard for teh hopes of being one of 3-4 new players every year who make the big bucks. It is cousin to the hope of winning the lottery. It is still a myth, and anyone who peddles it misses teh bigger picture.
  11. May 6, 2003 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    certainly a negative attitude will not get you forward...
  12. May 6, 2003 #11
    Not possible. Capitalism relies on a stratification of wealth, relies on there being winners and losers in the game.

    Furthermore, our relative wealth (in the US) is heavily dependent upon using far more than an equitable share of the earth's resources. It stands to reason that if every nation operated in a matter identical to the US, we would very swiftly deplete this planet of every useful resource.

    If every single person wants to be wealthy, and works hard to get there, is it possible? No. Because capitalism does not allow every sector of the job market to pay well. What would the purpose of money be if everyone earned 1 million dollars per year, even working at McDonalds? That would cease to be capitalism. And, as there will be low paying jobs, there must be people to fill those jobs, or else the entire house of cards crumbles.

    It may be true that a fettered capitalism can raise the standard of living in most poverty stricken countries, but the type of so-called capitalism we are currently exporting to the third world is really a disguised method for further lining the pockets of gigantic global corporations, not lifting the people out of abject poverty.
  13. May 6, 2003 #12
    On the other hand, an overly optimistic one whitewashes the very steep uphillbattle that many people face in trying to just make a living.
  14. May 6, 2003 #13
    Hmm, no. It relies on the profit motive, markets, and open trade. In general it will not lead to a flat distribution of income/wealth, but there is nothing to disallow a widespread increase in wealth among all classes -- indeed this is rather typical.
    Resources which the USA either makes, or buys -- there are not many, besides oil, that we are in danger of running out of.

    Zero, can you give me a specific example(s) of a dictator in a Third-World country forcing his people out of higher-paying jobs and into laboring for US companies?
  15. May 6, 2003 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Damgo – Your comments are irrefutable except re: oil.

    The worlds proven oil reserves will suffice for 300 years at present rates of consumption. The US has 2/3 of all proven reserves, most of which is in the Colorado mountains. Many other nations have lesser amounts. Extracting the oil from the shale rock is more expensive and more polluting than drilling. Problems have practical solutions.

  16. May 6, 2003 #15
    300 years!? I wish, oil is great. But most reputable estimates I've seen put peak production at anywhere from 2015-2050, after which it will enter permanent decline. Usage at around current levels could probably continue until around ~2100 or so.

    There is probably a ton more oil out there -- we can manufacture the stuff, in any case -- but oil that costs $100/barrel to get at is pretty much useless. At that price there are plenty of other alternatives.

    Also a quick googling puts OPEC having ~75% of proven reserves, with the USA only having 3%. http://www.petroleum.co.uk/education/natural/3.htm
  17. May 6, 2003 #16
    I'm hunting for the specific articles...here's one on Ivory Coast chocolate:linky thingy ...there are more, and of course those companies pay the local governments for land and water rights.
  18. May 6, 2003 #17
    Gah! Jaw drops. There goes all your credibility. 300 years? 2/3? Where do you get these figures? Is that 2/3 mostly shale?


    Any attempt to bring others anywhere near our level of wealth is dependent on using renewable forms of energy -- solar, geothermal, wind. It will depend on using sustainable forms of producing raw materials, and using relatively closed-loop systems. Renewable energy sources only require the consumption of the raw materials (wood, metal, etc) to build the equipment and a small amount for maintenance. We must have a continued supply of resources, such as can be provided through sustainably-managed lumber farms. But, in order for these farms to continue to produce lumber, and for other sources to continue to produce other raw materials, materials that we are no longer using must be put back into the system, rather than thrown in a landfill. Otherwise, those sustainably lumber farms will have no resources to make trees with. All our metal will end up in landfills as we run out of places to mine. With finite resources, that is the only way to continue indefinitely.

    I'm not saying that we will soon run out of these resources, but we will eventually, if we do not implement a closed-loop system. If even half the world had even half our (USA's)level of prosperity, resources would disappear at an alarming rate, and mass death would grip the world.

    That is the truth. We cannot expect others to consume as much as people in the USA, England, France, or other Western nations do. Without closed loop systems, they cannot be as prosperous without consuming as much.
    Last edited: May 6, 2003
  19. May 6, 2003 #18
    The problem with these -- as with nuclear power -- is that they all require large amounts of capital investment, the main thing that developing countries don't have. In general, coal is still a main source of power for developing countries, right? Anyone know what the coal supply situation is?

    I almost mentioned the lumber thing, but I'm not sure if it's really a problem or not -- lumber isn't as critical a resource as it once was, and techniques seem to have much improved. As far as metal, I remember reading someplace that there is enough easily accessible iron, aluminum, and uranium to last us an obscenely long time -- millennia at the very minimum.
  20. May 6, 2003 #19


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I was wrong, it wasn't 2/3 it was 64%.

    A publication of the State of Utah (1980) reports "The potential of oil shale is enormous. While found throughout the world, nearly 62 percent of the world's potentially recoverable oil shale resource are concentrated in the United States...The largest of the U. S. oil shale deposits is found in the 16,500 square-mile Green River formation in northwestern Colorado, northeastern Utah, and southwestern Wyoming. The richest and most easily recoverable deposits are located in the Piceance Creek Basin in western Colorado and the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah...The deposits are estimated to contain 562 billion barrels of recoverable oil. This is more than 64 percent of the world's total proven crude oil reserves."

    "The numbers on oil shale resources around the world are nothing short of staggering. Most of the following estimates are drawn from Duncan and Swanson (1965) unless otherwise cited. Oil shale deposits of Late Permian age in southern Brazil have been estimated to contain 800 billion barrels oil equivalent in shale that yields 10 to 25 gallons per ton, and 3.2 trillion barrels in possible extensions. Resources that yield 5 to 10 gallons of oil per ton were estimated to hold 4 trillion barrels of oil equivalent in possible extensions. A 200 square-mile Middle Tertiary lake basin deposit in southwestern Montana has approximately 1000 feet of sediments which have not been appraised in detail but may contain tens of billion barrels of oil potential. Weeks (1960) stated "possible potential resources" of higher grade oil shale in the U. S. are approximately 2 trillion barrels of oil equivalent, and 12 trillion barrels in the world. Duncan and Swanson (1965) estimated a world oil shale resource of 2.1 quadrillion barrels."


    PS - I've omitted parts of the article not supporting my position. SOP. NO?
  21. May 7, 2003 #20
    I was wrong too. I called my in-laws in Kenya to find out the going rate for a coffee picker who works a full day, it's 25 to 50 US cents a day. It takes about two minutes or less to pick enough coffee for one cup of coffee, which costs $1.50 at Starbucks.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Can we all be as rich as America please?